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Checking In On The AL East

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May has come and gone, with several more Rays players suffering injuries along the way. The month without Longoria could not have gone quicker for the Rays as they tried to stay afloat while derailed with a whole assemblage of injuries. Ending the month with a 14-14 record, the Rays managed to stay atop the AL East standings. With Boston, the last placed team in the division, only 2.5 games back from the first place Rays and Orioles, the AL East is shaping up to be a five team race (At least until Baltimore finally fades away).

Below the jump is a quick look at some of the top performers (and their counterparts) for each team, and a look at the projected final standings using the pre-season Pecota projections.

Baltimore Orioles (15-13 in May)

Top Performers:

Adam Jones: 127 PAs, .298/.362/.623, 167 wRC+, 1.9 WAR. Adam Jones continued his season long tear in May, launching 10 of his 16 home runs during the month. His HR/FB% still rests north of 26%, so regression in the power department is likely. However, his BABIP has stabilized in his typical low .300 range, and he is still a very valuable player with reduced power.

JJ Hardy: 128 PAs, .314/.352/.570, 149 wRC+, 1.5 WAR. Hardy started the season off slowly for the Orioles, but his play has come along recently. He isn't drawing walks, but the strikeouts are at a solid rate and he is driving the ball with authority.

Kevin Gregg: 9.1 IP, 1.93 ERA, 2.06 FIP, .3 WAR. Kevin Gregg receives quite a bit of mockery among fans, whether it is because of his strange look on the mound or how he manages to find himself in the closer role at times. Either way, Gregg pitcher well in May, helped solidify a strong bullpen for the O's, but a bullpen that could be facing serious regression.

Poor Performers:

The Starting Rotation: Remember how the Orioles' rotation looked strong in April, and fans began to think that the low ERA was a strong indicator of how they would perform in the future despite poor peripherals? Every starter for the O's posted an ERA at or above 4.20 in May. If the Orioles want to contend for the whole season, they will have to bolster their rotation that is comprised of a combination of mediocre pitchers, for the most part.

Matt Weiters: 110 PAs, .188/.282/.323, 65 wRC+, .3 WAR. After looking like the superstar catcher that prospectors saw in him a few years ago, Weiters took a step back in May. He suffered poor luck on balls in play, something that also happened in April, although to a lesser degree. His K% jumped by around 5%, so that helped play into his weak performance.

Robert Andino: 121 PAs, .215/.294/.299, 64 wRC+, .1 WAR. Robert Andino played a critical role in the final game of the season last year for Baltimore, lacing the final base hit to defeat Boston. For his part, Andino seems like a lively exciting young player with plenty of heart and intangibles. However, when it came to his play in the field during May, Andino left plenty to be desired. Andino isn't expected to provide a punch in the middle of the O's batting order, but his numbers were still dismal.

Boston Red Sox (15-13 in May)

Top Performers:

Daniel Nava: 81 PAs, .279/.432/.492, 152 wRC+, 1.1 WAR. With the Red Sox OFs crowding the DL, the Red Sox needed one of the replacements to step up. Nava has answered the call for the most part, providing stability at a position in which the current stop gaps were not expected to be needed barring an emergency. It most likely is just a hot streak, but during his stretch, Nava walked (18.5%) more than he struck out (17.3%).

Will Middlebrooks: 99 PAs, .316/.343/.579, 147 wRC+, .7 WAR. Amidst Youk's injuries and struggles, Middlebrooks, a top prospect for the Red Sox, received the opportunity to grasp a roster spot on the team. In his credit, he has done his part, providing power and a high batting average. In the minors, contact was a serious issue for Middlebrooks, and his MLB performance has done nothing to refute that. He is striking out at a ghastly rate (29.3%) while rarely accepting the walk (4.0%). Ladies and Gentlemen, that spells regression. So if your obnoxious Red Sox friend/neighbor wants to alert you of the new Red Sox savior, just patiently wait for the regression to play its role.

Scott Atchison: 17.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2.14 FIP. The odds that Atchison becomes a high-end reliever for the Red Sox is minimal; guys like Atchison usually don't pitch and thrive in high leverage situations. But for now, Atchison is helping to solidify what is turning out to be a strong Red Sox bullpen. If you are concerned that Atchison is going to be a stud for the Red Sox, just watch this video and have your fears relieved.

Poor Performers:

Jon Lester: 36.2 IP, 4.91 ERA, 4.25 FIP, .5 WAR. 2012 just hasn't been Lester's year so far, as Rays fans saw when the Rays rocked him a little while back. His strikeouts are down, and though he isn't walking too many batters, he just isn't overpowering them either. He hasn't and isn't awful by any means, but he hasn't been a pitcher that the Red Sox can rely on for a consistent strong start.

Mike Aviles: 123 PAs, .246/.254/.390, 64 wRC+, .4 WAR. There are times when players perform very well with no obvious signs of regression, such as a high BABIP, a high HR/FB%, or poor peripherals (strikeouts and walks). This often leads fans to wrongly assume that no regression will be experienced. The truth of the situation is that the player could just be going through a great period of play and that it has nothing or little to do with luck. Most of these hot streaks come to an end after a certain point or period. In April, Aviles experienced one of these hit streaks, and in May, he fell back to earth. Does that mean Aviles will no longer hit well? No, he probably will have more hot streaks. It just reminds us to put perspective on such situations and remember that regression applies to all situations.

Marlon Byrd: 70 PAs, .246/.261/.308, 36 wRC+, -.3 WAR. There is not much to be said, other than that the Red Sox probably aren't too excited with how their acquisition is doing. But with the Red Sox OF situation, they will take close to anything.

New York Yankees (14-14 in May)

Top Performers

Robinson Cano: 118 PAs, .303/.356/.587, 152 wRC+, 1.5 WAR. There is a friendly (But sometimes fierce) competition among Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays fans over who has the best second baseman in the AL East. Each provides value in his own unique way, which makes comparing them often difficult. So far this season though, Cano has been a step above the rest, especially after a tremendous effort in May during which he really carried the Yankee offense.

Raul Ibanez: 87 PAs, .288/.333/613, 151 wRC+, .6 WAR. Expectations for Ibanez in 2012 were pretty low. As a guy who is in the final lengths of his career, Ibanez was not expected to be more than a solid hitter after the Yanks traded away Jesus Montero. So far, Ibanez has quietly had a productive year, something most team's can't say for their DH. His numbers can be deceiving though, as he has 132 PAs against RHP but only 19 PAs against LHP (he hits from the left side).

Rafael Soriano: 11.1 IP, 2.38 ERA, 1.88 FIP, .4 WAR. With Mariano Rivera out with an injury for the rest of the year, the Yanks needed Soriano to receive more of the high leverage innings as he has done previously in his career with the Braves and Rays. Soriano took advantage of the opportunity and closed out 6 of the 8 games in May.

Poor Performers

Phil Hughes: 36.2 IP, 4.66 ERA, 4.42 FIP, .4 WAR. There was a time when Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes were among the top pitching prospects in baseball. It should only serve as another example of why pitching prospects are highly volatile.

Hiroki Kuroda: 29.2 IP, 4.25 ERA, 5.73 FIP, -.1 WAR. The Yankees prized winter signing hasn't payed off yet. The move to the AL and to New York Yankee's Stadium has had a drastic effect on him so far.

Ivan Nova: 38.1 IP, 5.87 ERA, 5.77 FIP, -.1 WAR. The fanfare surrounding Nova for a while now has been absolutely baffling. Maybe he has received the attention because of his long win streak which spanned this season and the last. Regardless, Nova just isn't that good right now, and while he has potential, he keeps showing why expectations for him heading into 2012 were too high. He is a solid to mediocre pitcher, not a strong #2.

Tampa Bay Rays (14-14 in May)

Top Performers

Matt Joyce: 106 PAs, .282/.425/.482, 161 wRC+, .9 WAR. With the Rays lineup in shambles and Pena and Scott slumping, Matt Joyce helped carry the lineup while facing a more normal split of right handers and left handers. He has walked almost as much as he has struck out while hitting for power.

David Price: 36 IP, 2.75 ERA, 3.50 FIP, .6 WAR. With his new approach offspeed-heavy, Price has managed to induce more groundballs and limit walks without the expense of strikeouts.

Fernando Rodney: 14.2 IP, 1.23 ERA, 2.28 FIP, .5 WAR. For the second straight year, the Rays have taken a risk on a relatively unwanted relief pitcher and handed him the unofficial closer's role. Just as Farnsworth was last year, Rodney has been a major success so far, providing Maddon with a stable option in the late innings.

Poor Performers

The Catchers: Chris Gimenez and Jose Molina have both been brutal in the month of May. Jose Molina hit .175/.250/.350, good for a 67 wRC+. Somehow Gimenez has managed to be much worse, hitting .140/.196/.140, which comes out to a -5 wRC+. Seeing Gimenez at the plate almost makes us long for the days of seeing Brignac with a bat.

Injuries: Due to injuries to Keppinger, Longoria, Jennings, Fuld, and several others, players like Rhymes, Sutton, and Thompson have been forced into roles that don't put them into a position to succeed.

Carlos Pena: 118 PAs, .134/.288/.289, 71 wRC+, -.2 WAR. Words need not be used to help explain or add depth to Pena's statistics. The numbers speak for themselves.

Toronto Blue Jays (15-13 in May)

Top Performers

Jose Bautista: 120 PAs, .257/.342/.552, 143 wRC+, .9 WAR. Bautista still hasn't managed to get the batting average up to his 2011 level because of a .247 BABIP, but the power is there.

JP Arencibia: 93 PAs, .278/.301/.589, 140 wRC+, .9 WAR. With Travis D'Arnaud, the Blue Jays top catching prospect, trying to hit himself to the major leagues at the AAA level, Arencibia began feeling the pressure to perform. His response has been nothing short of fantastic as he has shown everything but patience in May.

Brandon Morrow: 36 IP, 3.50 ERA, 2.00 FIP, 1.5 WAR. While Ricky Romero has struggled, Morrow continues to show promise at the top of the rotation.

Poor Performers

Ricky Romero: 37.1 IP, 4.82 ERA, 5.17 FIP, .1 WAR. Ricky Romero's command deserted him in May as he walked over 6 batters per 9 innings.

Henderson Alvarez: 33.1 IP, 3.51 ERA, 5.01 FIP, .1 WAR. On one hand, Henderson Alvarez has held opponents to a 3.51 ERA while limiting baserunners, especially free passes. However, he continues to strike out batters at a miserable rate (2.7 K/9) while giving up many homeruns despite inducing a high number of groundballs. The new Jeremy Hellickson?

Adam Lind: 47 PAs, .140/.213/.279, 32 wRC+, -.4 WAR. It only took 47 PAs during May for Lind to be demoted to AAA, allowing Yan Gomes to receive the 1B job at the MLB level.

Projecting The AL East

By revisiting the Pecota projections, we can reconfigure the projections for the AL East. Since around a month of play is in the books, April's records are unaffected by the projections. The wins and losses occurred, so using projections to evaluate them is useless. The projections can be used to fill in the holes of the schedule though, which, in this case, is the rest of the 2012 season.

Think of it this way: You have a quarter to flip, and you project the odds of getting heads up twice in two opportunities. The odds in this case would be 25%. If the first flip results in a heads up, the odds then improve to 75%. Why did this happen? For each flip, the odds of a heads up were 50% out of 100%, or one half. So these two flips were independent of each other. The first flip resulted in a heads, so the odds of a heads in that case is now 100% (it happened). For the next flip, the odds are once again 50%, since the flip is independent of the other. One hundred and fifty out of two hundred equals 75% (reduced).

Easy enough? Below are the projected final standings:

1. Yankees: 92-70 (94-68 in pre-season projections)
2. Rays: 89-73 (87-75 in pre-season projections)
3. Red Sox: 88-74 (91-71 in pre-season projections)
4. Blue Jays: 80-82 (78-84 in pre-season projections)
5. Orioles: 78-84 (72-90 in pre-season projections)

The Rays are trying to hold onto their lead after their hot start in April and even record in May. With several key players coming back soon, the Rays should finally field a full team and try to pull away from the group in the standings.